How ELGA Went All In On Downtown Flint

It’s all a matter of timing as ELGA joins in on the revitalization of a once-moribund main street in one of America’s iconic industrial cities.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • ELGA opened its new branch in March in a building that had been vacant for two decades and is now part of a sweeping revitalization.
  • The credit union is competing on service, including business offerings and the first ATMs in the now-bustling neighborhood.

CU QUICK FACTS

ELGA Credit Union
Data as of 03.31.19

HQ: Burton, MI
ASSETS: $703.8M
MEMBERS: 70,073
BRANCHES: 12
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 14.8%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 18.4%
ROA: 2.39%

ELGA Credit Union ($703.8M, Burton, MI) is banking on the fourth try being the charm. 

Three earlier efforts to open a branch in downtown Flint didn’t pan out, but this time ELGA is already seeing its investment bear fruit in one of America’s most iconic Rust Belt cities.

The new facility on Saginaw Street occupies retail space that had been abandoned for more than 20 years as the birthplace of General Motors went through a prolonged era of decline and decay.

“This was our fourth attempt over the last 18 years to open a downtown branch,” says CEO Karen Church. “The seller those times wouldn’t sell or lease to us, and we weren’t expecting this opportunity when it came. But we were ready when it finally did.”

Karen Church, CEO, ELGA Credit Union

The building is a multi-use space that came without an option to purchase. That’s OK. “We felt leasing was a good option since we’ve never been in a downtown space,” the ELGA CEO says, adding, “It appears that it’s going to work well, as the initial traffic has been good.”

Church, who joined the credit union in 1978 and took the helm in 1992, says the 1,700-square-foot operation opened 76 new accounts in the first three weeks after it opened on March 8 and already has become an integral part of the revived business district.

“The community loves the new branch,” she says. “Along with our great banking products, we’ve been able to participate in the monthly Art Walk events. That’s a fun way to invite people in while displaying someone’s work.”

It’s exciting to be in the heart of the city, and it’s awesome to see what we were able to create.

Karen Church, CEO, ELGA Credit Union

Joe Martin, Director of Development, Uptown Reinvestment Corp.

ELGA, which was created in 1951 to serve power company workers, shares its new space with an art gallery and a boutique, and is a bit of a work of art itself. While retaining touches like the retro black-and-white floor, the new branch features a teller pod, glass offices, and a conference room, and the walls are festooned with “Folks of Flint” portraits by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Dan White.

“It’s not your bland, typical bank branch. They used a fantastic design to give it a really vibrant, architectural feel with creative design and lighting,” says Joe Martin, director of development for Uptown Reinvestment Corp., which leases the space to the credit union.

The ELGA project is part of a “building-by-building approach that has resulted in a kind of wholesale revitalization here that has happened in the past 10 to 15 years,” adds Martin, whose organization is spearheading the effort to re-develop the center city of the community of about 100,000 people some 70 miles north of Detroit. 

Click the tabs below to see ELGA’s new branch and the Flint Farmers’ Market.

A Family Dollar was the last occupant of this space that sat empty for two decades before ELGA Credit Union stepped up.

This is what visitors now see when they approach the new ELGA branch on Saginaw Street in uptown Flint.

This is the old retail space before it was renovated into ELGA Credit Union’s uptown Flint branch.

Members are now greeted by this open, inviting room when they come into the branch to do business with their credit union. Also greeting them here is member service representative Brandon Hutchinson.

Boarded up from the inside, what would soon be the waiting area at ELGA Credit Union’s new branch awaits renovation.

Here’s what the waiting area looks now. Across the street is the Ferris Wheel, a co-working and business startup space that’s also an anchor point for the revival of uptown Flint.

The Flint Farmers’ Market now occupies the former Flint Journal printing, an architectural landmark in the historic automaking town.

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The ELGA branch joins redevelopment highlights that include the conversion of a former printing press building into a farmers market complete with in-house pediatrics clinic — “You can get a prescription for fresh fruit,” Martin says — and the ELGA branch’s neighbor across the street, a co-working and startup space called The Ferris Wheel.

There are more than 30 businesses already in The Ferris Wheel, and those entrepreneurs can avail themselves of ELGA business services as the credit union strives to compete with its two main competitors. 

Four Flint Findings

ELGA Credit Union CEO Karen Church shares these four best practices gleaned from her credit union’s experience in opening the new branch in downtown Flint:

  • Lease if you’re not certain the location will be a long-term success.
  • Determine in advance what activity your current members would bring to the new facility.
  • Invite the public in during the build if possible.
  • Be a part of the community by participating in events and on boards of groups that meet downtown.

“Huntington and Chase are located downtown, and we intend to demonstrate the credit union difference for business accounts as well as consumer banking,” Church says. She says her credit union’s business fee structure is advantageous to business owners and that ELGA pays dividends on business checking accounts.

“We already have a nice pipeline of commercial loan business in the area,” Church adds, and the new branch is ideally suited to serve existing members and new enrollees it can attract from business owners and employees and the thousands of students who attend such institutions as the University of Michigan-Flint and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

The new Saginaw Street branch, the credit union’s 12th, is staffed with a branch manager and two universal agents, one who specializes in loans and the other in new accounts. 

The strategy is straightforward. One of its not-so-secret weapons? A pair of 24/7 ATMs, until recently the only ones in that part of downtown Flint.

“We also plan to capture their business through convenient access to their funds, great products and services, and our personal service,” Church says.

And by being part of something bigger. “There’s so much going on, with new employers, new colleges, and restaurants. It’s exciting to be in the heart of the city, and it’s awesome to see what we were able to create,” Church says.

In fact, says Martin of the downtown development group, the neighborhood has a new problem. “Ten, 15 years ago, you could play football in the street after 5 and on weekends and never have to get out of the way,” he says. “Now, the number one complaint is that there’s too much going on and not enough parking. 

“That’s a good problem to have.”

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June 10, 2019


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